Monday, January 15, 2007

Amazing Amateurs

I've been doing my usual trick of reading three or four books at once, including an SF bargain-table buy, Old Twentieth (2005) by the usually reliable Joe Haldeman. It started out strong but the ending just didn't work for me - it seemed like he was rushing to wrap it up and it was pretty unsatisfying. Oh well - it was quick and had some good moments.

But I'm still loving Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe by Timothy Ferris. In between his main subjects, Ferris briefly profiles a number of individual amateurs, and I decided to seek out some CCD images by one of them, Florida based Don Parker. His shots of Mars and Jupiter taken with an old (but optically fine) 16 inch Newtonian are really incredible.

You can see a few of them on this page, including the one shown here, which compares images of Mars taken by Don and the Hubble Space Telescope. Pretty impressive! With HST, large professional telescopes, and probes orbiting Mars and Saturn, you might think that everything important in the sky is covered. But that's far from true. HST and large ground-based scopes are heavily scheduled, and orbiting probes can see selected details but may miss the big picture or an unexpected development. Serious amateurs continue to make important contributions, often through repeated observations.

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